Canyonlands Field Institute Land Program Manager Brennan Gillis teaches seventh-graders from Grand County Middle School on a 2019 river trip. [Courtesy photo]

Alex de Moor was on a five-day river trip when the Southeast Utah Department of Health issued their March 16 order that restricted the region’s businesses and closed schools with the hope of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

He and other staff members of the Canyonlands Field Institute (CFI), a local nonprofit that provides outdoor education to youth, returned from their training to a different world.

“Right now, we would still be training our first-year educators and starting to bring our second-year educators back,” said de Moor, the program manager and interim education director for the organization, describing the schedule of a normal year at CFI.

CFI offers multi-day land-based and river-based programs for youth, adults and families, with a focus on middle-school-aged kids. This year, because of the complex and changing series of public health concerns, travel restrictions and school closures, the organization has had to reschedule all of their April trips and programs.

The organization’s programs use science, art, and immersion as avenues for kids to learn to observe and connect with their natural environments and to respect and connect with each other. Some students come from the immediate area while others travel from all over the country. CFI staff try to give kids the tools they need to appreciate nature wherever they come from.

“It’s finding ways to connect to small things out in nature,” said de Moor, even if that means something as humble as observing dandelions growing up through cracks in the pavement.

While it’s unknown how long social distancing measures will need to remain in place, CFI is hopeful that restrictions will be eased by late summer.

“We are still hoping that May can run, but we are prepared if that doesn’t happen,” said de Moor. “It’s ever-evolving, and we’re trying to figure it out, the same way every other organization is right now.”

One way CFI staff have tried to stay engaged with the community during this time of social distancing is by creating free online programming. A new learning program called “Coyote’s Corner” can be accessed by kids, teachers and parents from home.

The first program went live on Friday and features a “Family Group Contract” that guides users through creating a communication agreement with their families. Social wellness programming like this is part of CFI’s regular mission.

“Our education department is going to go out and we’re going to start creating some small videos and nature notes. Some of our first-year educators got together some really amazing artwork and journal prompts,” said de Moor.

De Moor applauded CFI’s marketing director for quickly building Coyote’s Corner onto the CFI website.

“He’s been able to create this whole section on our website devoted to curriculum, while also posting on Instagram and Facebook, so we can get it out through as many mediums as possible,” he said.

“The goal is that it can be accessible to everybody, even if they don’t have access to the internet.”

Coyote Corner can be found on the CFI website at, at the Canyonlands Field Institute Facebook page, or on the Canyonlands Field Institute Instagram page, with the handle @cfimoab. De Moor welcomes ideas for the curriculum from the community; he can be reached at

“Our mission is to provide quality outdoor education,” said de Moor. “While we prefer to do that in person, we feel that through this crisis we can still achieve that mission.”

Canyonlands Field Institute designs at-home programs

“Our mission is to provide quality outdoor education. While we prefer to do that in person, we feel that through this crisis we can still achieve that mission.”

– Alex de Moor